Faces in the Crowd
36 Extraordinary Tales of Tianjin
by Feng Jicai
This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Pub Date 2 Nov 2019 | Archive Date 31 Dec 2019
Alain Charles Asia Publishing, Sinoist Books
In a series of beautifully illustrated short stories, author and artist Feng Jicai introduces some weird and wonderful characters from the port city of Tianjin in northeast China where he was born and raised. They include a miracle doctor, a master chicken-thief, an ill-mannered mynah bird, a smooth-talking restaurateur and an educated gangster.
In the gateway city, only the best stories survive
The port of Tianjin is where the ancient Chinese empire met the sea. The turn of the 20th century was a tumultuous time for the city, with the Qing dynasty on its last legs and the Boxers unleashing their ill-fated rebellion against the European trading concessions that had colonised its streets.
For Tianjin’s inhabitants, daily life carried on. These hardy people were shaped by the bitter earth from which they sprang, and every once in a while, there would emerge someone so remarkable that a new name would be inducted into Tianjin’s hall of fame.
From a miracle doctor to an ill-mannered mynah bird, they came from every walk of life and in all shapes and sizes. Together, their stories make up the rich tapestry of a city that the modern world has washed away...
Born in Tianjin in 1942, Feng Jicai is a contemporary author, artist and cultural scholar who rose to prominence as a pioneer of China's Scar Literature movement that emerged after the Cultural Revolution. He has published almost a hundred literary works in China and more than forty internationally. He is proficient in both Chinese and western artistic techniques, and his artwork has been exhibited in China, Japan, the US, Singapore and Austria. He has had a major influence on contemporary Chinese society with his work on the Project to Save Chinese Folk Cultural Heritages and his roles as honorary member of the Literature and Arts Association, honorary president of the China Folk Literature and Art Association and adviser to the State Council, among others. He is also dean, professor and PhD supervisor at the Feng Jicai Institute of Literature and Art, Tianjin University.
‘An extraordinary literary memorial’
JULIA LOVELL, Author of The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China
“I don’t think anyone in China would be surprised if Feng Jicai won the Nobel Prize for Literature – he’s the Chinese Charles Dickens, and his work has influenced at least four generations. This book will draw you into Tianjin city life at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Story by story, you’ll smell the Chinese cooking, witness the men fighting, hear the women gossiping, and feel the anger and laughter of the people of Tianjin. It’s a book full of miracles, and it’s funny too!”
XINRAN, Author of The Good Women of China and The Promise
“Like the drawings by the talented author himself, which add plenty of charm to the book, the stories collected here form a broad stroke but vivid portrait of the port city of Tianjin some one hundred years ago. It may serve as an appetizing teaser to anyone who’d like to get to know Chinese culture.”
ZHANG LIJIA, author of Lotus (named one of the best books of 2017 by NPR’s Book Concierge) and the bestselling "Socialism is Great!": A Worker's Memoir of the New China
Average rating from 16 members
This is in many ways an eulogy and perhaps even an elegy to a time and place that is no more and will never be witnessed again. With 36 beautifully crafted short stories that are illustrated by himself, Feng Jicai paints in words a unique picture of the Chinese port city of Tianjin through its eclectic cast of diverse and wide ranging characters. known as a cultural scholar, Feng has campaigned to preserve urban culture and traditional villages and he has produced here a work that is a loving testament to the past. The stories are set in the late 19th and early 20th century a time when Tianjin was split between its old city and the foreign successions. These foreign nations created many architectural reminders of their rule, notably churches and thousands of villas. One of the stories indeed concerns the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 which was a chiefly a revolt against the spread of Western and Japanese influence. Being a port city it is no surprise that the stories contain people from all backgrounds and some are moral tales. Some stories are funny and others are quite moving particularly the one about the tragic demise of a respected man who job is to detect forged art work. By reading this collection you will get a glimpse into a vanished world with all its eccentricities and colour.
Through a diverse and eclectic cast of characters, late Qing and early Republic-era Tianjin comes vibrantly alive in this collection. Every one of these little stories is a pleasure and between that and their perfect digestible size, it's assured that you will be able to enthusiastically sweep through all thirty-six much faster than you'll expect.
It was a pleasure to read this fascinating and engrossing book. It was like travelling back in time to another place and discovering a world you didn't know. An excellent book, highly recommended! Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.